Sam Mele, who won 524 games as manager of the Twins from 1961 to 1967, will celebrate his 94th birthday on Thursday.
Mele’s tenure with the Twins wasn’t long, but after the Washington Senators relocated to Minnesota for the 1961 season, it also wasn’t long before the Twins showed improvement.
Under Mele, the Twins won 91 games in 1962 and 1963 before finally breaking through with 102 wins in 1965 and a World Series appearance opposite the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Mele didn’t do it alone. Those Twins’ teams were loaded with talent, including Zoilo Versalles, who had 76 extra base hits in 1965 and was named the AL MVP. They also had Tony Oliva, Bob Allison and Harmon Killebrew, who hit only 25 home runs in ’65 but would go on to hit 573 home runs for his career, including 40 or more in a season eight times.
On the mound in ’65, Jim “Mudcat” Grant won 21 games and Jim Kaat, 18. The rotation also featured Jim Perry and Camilo Pascual. Pascual won only nine games that season, but he had back-to-back 20-win seasons in ’62 and ’63. Perry would go on to win 20 games in 1969 and 24 in 1970, good enough to win the Cy Young award. He finished with 215 wins for his career, including 128 with the Twins.
So that’s what Mele had to work with and it got them to October and a meeting with the Dodgers and Sandy Koufax. Here’s how the series played out, according to the Society for American Baseball Research:
On paper the Twins had the edge offensively and took the first two games at home, 8-2 and 5-1, defeating the Dodgers’ duo of Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. Los Angeles took three games in a row in their park, as Bob Allison, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and AL MVP Zoilo Versalles arguably underproduced; the Dodgers pitched around Killebrew; he drove in only two runs. Ron Fairly drove in six runs in the series for the Dodgers, but Mele was able to take the Twins all the way to Game Seven in Minnesota. The final blow was Lou Johnson’s solo home run off Jim Kaat, while Sandy Koufax threw a complete game, three-hit shutout.
But just winning games apparently wasn’t enough for Twins ownership because after the Twins fell to 89 wins in 1966, a slow start in 1967 got Mele fired and replaced by longtime minor league manager Cal Ermer.
Mele, who had once played for the Boston Red Sox, remained close to owner Tom Yawkey. After he lost his job with the Twins, Mele spent the next 25 years in the Red Sox organization, working mostly as a scout.
Image credit: By Bowman Gum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons